I have spent most of my adult life in search of good mole. It seems very few restaurants can find the right combination of sweet, savory and spicy, instead turning out something that gives the distinct impression a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup has been melted into a watery tomato-based sauce.
But I had high hopes when I spotted pollo en mole ($9.95) on the menu at El Gallo Giro in Kuna. After all, the Mexican eatery is a landmark, occupying one end of Main Street. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. The tender chunks of chicken swam in a sauce that slowly revealed layers of flavor: first the sweet as it hit the tip of my tongue, then the earthy, and finally, a smouldering spice that I only became aware of minutes later. That lingering sensation reminded me to respect the mole.
The mole discovery was just the topping on an altogether wonderful dining experience. It's not like Gallo Giro is a secret. Most weekends, the line waiting for a table snakes down the sidewalk. But for the patient--or those who call ahead--it's worth the wait.
The restaurant seems like a teenager who has just had a growth spurt: It's larger than you expect, a little gangly, but full of character. An assortment of bright turquoise booths and tables fill the restaurant, the layout of which is the apparent result of the slow assimilation of neighboring real estate. Families and large parties are the norm, and conversations rise to a cacophony punctuated with laughter.
I hijacked my Meridian-dwelling parents for the meal, and we started out with the signature appetizer: guacamole made tableside ($6). Arriving via a small wheeled cart, fresh avocados, onions, jalapenos and cilantro are turned into a finished product in a flurry of knives, whisks and utensils before landing on the table with a thud thanks to the massive volcanic stone bowl in which it is served. We asked for medium heat, but the chunks of fresh jalapeno kept us on our toes, and the guacamole disappeared as quickly as it was made, especially when accompanied by a couple of house margaritas ($4.50) and a Negra Modelo ($3.25).
My father's meal made everyone turn to look. It was one of the signature molcajetes--massive, three-legged stone bowls that arrive so hot, their contents spit and sputter through the entire meal. His molcajete of choice, camarones borrachos ($14.45), was a concoction of massive shrimp sauted with onions, jalapenos, mushrooms and tomatoes. The sauce had our spoons making raids across the table as we savored the rich, earthy spices and biting heat. Both the molcajete and the mole came with homemade flour tortillas so hot we had to juggle them between our hands.
My mother was impressed by her seafood burrito, the special of the day ($8.95), which was packed with real crab meat, shrimp and rice, and covered in a mushroom and red wine sauce--a surprising combination.
We scanned the impressive list of premium tequilas, but decided we were pressing our luck. After all, it's a long drive back from Kuna, but it's worth every mile on the odometer.
--Deanna Darr believes a good mole is holy.